Last night I did the Viennese Waltz and somewhere in the midst of a three count I thought of my childhood spent fishing. There is a link between the events I realized today after three paper cups of coffee. Somehow the music, the adventure, and the dance partner's conversation placed me back in the barefoot summers that seemed endless. I thought at first it was that genteel subtle Mississippi accent which my fellow dance student possessed that made me think of the adventures with my Father. Not to say that a southern accent has anything to do with me directly, or even my Father for that matter. It was a stereotyped perception based on fictitious accounts of a more aquatic southern existence where Huck and Tom would take on the world fearlessly fishing their way through life lessons.
I felt that I needed a bit of Huck's adventurous courage as we entered the museum ballroom where masses of beginners to pros twirled to recklessly fast tempo ed Waltz music. We had caught the last five minutes of instruction before being thrown into the final exam. We were at times clearly swimming upstream as a couple hundred others tried to navigate the space in a variety of styles that seemed to be a sort of montage of dance converged in one room. Whatever move they knew, they were bringing it to the waltz. Dips, double turns and quicksteps were pushed into our fire drill of a waltz. The tempo increased until it seemed that we were trying to evacuate rather than linger.
Many of us felt tricked into a night of ballroom dancing after venturing out ready for belly dance. Quite a switch the museum pulled on us. They had changed the theme and I was initially none to happy. Having immediately felt the need to apologize to my two girlfriends who had agreed to a night of exotic music and art viewing. This was my first unofficial NYC tour with guests that trusted that the the hour plus subway trip would deliver us at a wondrously inspired free night of the kind of dance where no one needs a partner. Now here we were at every ones worst nightmare- a group of waltzing paired strangers.
So what does this have to do with fishing, you are probably thinking right about now. How on earth could my mind become occupied with thoughts of fishing when I was in the midst of high elbowed spins that threatened a blackened eye for someone, possibly even me. I should be concentrating and self defensive, not drifting into childhood la la land. I spun and spun tilting a head back to admire the grand columns that surrounded us like soldiers. Ionic, Doric, Corinthian I pondered as my partner mentioned the appearance of a Lute. The Philharmonic were pulling out all of the stops, they were seemingly well aware that they faced angry mob of disappointed belly dancers and they were going to win us back with Medieval instruments. It seemed to be working. I found my dance partner had a gift for conversation in the same way my Dad once did. I also noted that as I divulged my awe with Northern planktonic seas, that my spins were getting sloppy, and potentially dangerous. By the time conversation drifted to socio-economic relations of the mid Pacific, I needed to be reigned in before my animated waltz injured someone.
The element of reckless abandon was certainly a part of my current flashback. It was my last dance partner of the evening who said it best as he planted his seventy something year old frame solidly so to body check the conga line of dancing teens. He smiled and said to me "and who thought that the waltz could not be vicious." Vicious indeed, I thought to myself as I realized that I was dancing with an elderly psychopath who had grace, style and the blocking moves worthy of the Toronto Maple Leafs. These teens were messing with an already dangerous dance and clearly both they and I had underestimated the elderly. One two three, one two three, one two three check. The waltz lost its innocence last night, but by siding with the ancient aggressor I emerged without a black eye. Others were possibly not so lucky.
Childhood summers hold a bit of that adrenaline pumping perceived danger that last night also brought. They are filled with roller coasters, water slides and frightening encounters with the elderly. Yup that is what summer vacation was to me. My Father himself was in his fifties when I was born, so all of the adventures with him were a bit like venturing with Grandpa. Many of these adventures took place at a local trout farm an hour from our own farm back in the Midwest.
We fished at a small privately owned farm that raised Rainbow trout. Now you could question the ethics of fishing at a farm, but the owner had already thought through this and limited the tools that were allowed. Bamboo pole, no reel and worms only. My Father who was perhaps the greatest sweet talker on the planet would make conversation with anyone and everyone. He was a great connector who could find a common thread that would link him in with every single person he met. As a child I believed that the world was his friend, and in some way that was true. My Dad was a master of baiting the hook with shared experience. Due to this, wonderful worlds opened to us. Often times it came in the form of offers to join picnics or special privileges granted. Going anywhere with my Dad was a backstage pass to the world.
The owner of the trout farm allowed us to use a secret weapon of sorts, chunks of cheddar cheese. Keep in mind this was taking place in Wisconsin, where in my six year old brain, any creature who loved cheese as much as I did was already a kindred spirit. This was our state food. Cheese was our identity. There were some ground rules that went with special privileges. There was of course the before mentioned equipment limitations, but the golden rule was that under no circumstances could "Charley" be caught and eaten. He was the golden boy of the pond. He was giant and old, but most of all he was a fabled fish who was even believed to posses special powers, or at least I tried to further that belief. In my mind I concluded that he might even be a talking wish granting sort of fish. No one really wanted to catch Charley, but every fisherman claimed they did. Even as a child I could see in their eyes that no one wanted nature to be tamed completely, even though this was a farm. We needed to have "Charlies" in the world. Something that was just beyond our reach. A magical creature that humbled us with its ability to captivate and its ability to evade.
With this being a farm, there was always work to be done. My special duties were to feed the baby fish in the far corners of the green. They were tiny splashes of life in swimming pool sized ponds. I took great pride in my chores. Other children would sneer as I got to cross under the "off limits" rope and saunter along on the dangerous side of the farm. This was the side with tall grasses and tree house type trees. These duties also held danger with warnings to "not fall in." The fish farmer and my Dad would cheerfully send me off on my duties like two reckless Grandfathers closing with the line, "Don't let Charley get ya!" They would laugh and tip a Pabst Blue Ribbon and I would be on my way thinking to myself, "boy if I could only be so lucky." I could potentially be kidnapped into his magic world of deep clear water swimming around in a miniature sea of rainbow sided creatures where I could live out my days in mermaid style.
In order to reach my feeding ponds I had to take a long walk around the great pond where we fished. That was Charley's pond. I would attempt a sort of child espionage, poking my head through cattails and reeds at the far end of the great pond to see if I could catch sight of him sunning himself at the surface, or possibly even having a conversation with a peer. I would sprinkle cheese chunks as gently as I could in hopes that Charley would think that there wasn't a human nearby, but rather that it was raining cheese. This technique I figured would make him go about his normal activities and allow me the opportunity to see him and possibly befriend him. I hoped that he could forgive me for the fish friends that I had consumed in my short life. I made sure that my hands were visible so that he would know immediately that I was unarmed. I kept the fish feed bucket near in hoping too that he would consider my baby fish feeding a sort of penance for my dining past and depending on the afternoon, potentially my future.
You can pretty much guess where this story is heading. One day, of course Charley reveals himself. But before we get to that there are a couple of things to know about him. He was rumored to be colossal, but no specifics were given past a few grand sweeping arm gestures. I would test this theory by placing ever greater sized cheese curds on the hook, and then slowly lowering them into the deep. I knew that these multi-ounce chunks would call out to The Great Charley, and sure enough there would be a ripple on the waters surface and your hook would be cleaned in record time. I also had no fear in actually mistakenly hooking him. I looked at it as a sort of paying reverence, making cheese curd offerings to this pond God. One for you, one for me as the cheese curd bag emptied between the great fish and his siren in training.
It was the last fishing trip of the season when Charley decided to thank me in his own way. I had decided to forgo my usual half bag of cheese so that he could have more. Winter would be coming and all the animals needed extra girth so to survive. Not that he needed anymore weight. I estimated him to be roughly the size of a smallish Loch Ness Monster. Lets just say that I was not disappointed that day when several minutes after emptying a double share of cheese onto his mouth, he lept in full glory with the sunlight reflecting metallic rainbows as he turned before splashing down again in a tremendous thud. My Pabst drinking babysitters panicked that it was me that fell into the pond. I heard my name called out, but I was unable to muster much of a response after witnessing the trout rising like a Phoenix out of the cheese curds.
The three of us stood on opposite sides of the pond as the concentric rings radiated from Charley's epicenter. We all knew who could make rings like that. I think that was the only day I ever saw my Dad drop his beer. I made my way back to meet up with the fish farmer and Dad. I was stumbling through the tall grasses yelling "Did ya see him, did ya see him!" No they hadn't in fact seen him, but unless I has capable of throwing a twenty-five pound shot into the middle of the pond, that had to be him. Charley had granted me my wish, even though we never got to have the conversation I so hoped for. He revealed himself only to me his muse, while strategically leaving undeniable evidence in the form of a giant wake that made my fish story the unquestionable truth in the history of the trout pond.
So that is the kind of story that swirls in my head as I Viennese Waltz my way through life. I think about how conversationalists open up worlds of adventure to me. How these dance partners were not unlike my father who considered whoever he encountered to be a friend in the works. This search for shared experience was what my father used to bait in a stranger to a place where their worlds would combine into long talks and laughter, snowmobile rides and even giant jumping fish. So while the Lute was played I was reminded of how lucky I am to have inherited this ability to talk to anyone about anything from my dad. It is my security blanket that I carry around the world with me. My final word to the Lute wielding Philharmonic is thank you for not being a belly dance band. I would not have had this experience unless I was able to three count my way through fascinating conversations with strangers.